Candy and trick-or-treating are a big part of the happy Halloween experience. This year, it’s estimated that Americans will spend approximately $2.6 billion on sweet treats alone for the holiday. With so many choices, you may question if that’s money well spent and wonder whether one candy is better or healthier than others. Because let’s be real: Halloween isn’t known as a healthy holiday.
But choosing healthy candy options while still treating your family to the best Halloween candy is possible. To help you navigate your way through the candy aisle, we got advice from our expert, Gillian Arathuzik, a registered dietitian and nutrition diabetes educator at Lahey Health locations in Danvers and Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Can “Healthy” and “Candy” Really Coexist?
In the wide world of Halloween goodies, Arathuzik says that the word “healthy” needs to be taken with a grain of salt when we talk about the best Halloween candy. Yes, some people may give out healthier treats, such as clementines, tangerines or even snack packs of popcorn, cheese crackers or dried fruit. But for the most part, candy rules the Halloween roost. Therefore, it’s a matter of what makes the most sense nutritionally when selecting healthy candy options.
1. Choose chocolate first.
Almost half the candy we buy at Halloween is chocolate. Previous research has shown that chocolate contains antioxidant properties — mainly in its flavanols, which are contained in cocoa solids — that can help protect our hearts. Reach for dark chocolate first because it contains more cocoa — which means more antioxidants — and may also have lower levels of sugar and fat. Look for candy that’s at least 70 percent dark chocolate. Dark chocolate also contains minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper and iron, which boosts its rank among healthy candy options.
2. Choose nuts and peanut butter second.
As with chocolate, nuts and peanut butter provide a better blood glucose response than candies that are completely sugar-based. Sugar-based candies are comprised of simple carbohydrates that contain the simple sugars fructose, glucose and lactose. The body breaks all carbohydrates down into simple sugars.
“Candy that is made of mostly simple sugar and is chewy or gummy in nature can put you at greater risk for dental caries or cavities,” noted Arathuzik.
Chocolate candies with nuts and/or peanut butter contain proteins and fats, which are slower to digest and help you stay fuller longer. By feeling fuller, you’re less prone to eat as much of this type of candy. The carbohydrate portion of the chocolate, nuts and peanut butter won’t reach your bloodstream as quickly as a straight sugar candy, which means you’re less likely to experience the typical blood sugar spike and crash — which only leaves you feeling tired and wanting more candy.
“The protein and fat content in these really do help keep you most satisfied,” said Arathuzik.
3. Count candy carbs.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has a Halloween candy carb counts chart that outlines what the lowest-carb candies are; it also identifies the ideal serving sizes for each candy. Some of the more popular candies on the list include one piece of Hershey’s Kisses with Almonds, a Hershey’s Almond Bar, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a snack-size Mr. Goodbar, a Wonka Pixie Stix or a Snickers Mini.
4. Don’t count on sugar-free.
Chances are that your kids won’t be bringing home any sugar-free candies; they cost a little more, so people don’t give them out as much. Even if they do, though, sugar-free candies aren’t without their drawbacks.
“Most sugar-free candies use sugar alcohols to sweeten, and they can cause gastrointestinal upset,” Arathuzik said. “Sugar alcohols make everything move through the GI system at a rapid rate, which can cause diarrhea in some people.”
5. Share and share alike.
6. Plan ahead.
To temper the amount of candy your kids eat before going out for a night of trick-or-treating, make sure they eat a healthy dinner before hitting the road in their costumes, she says. When kids walk, instead of being driven, they’re also getting the benefits of exercise.
Having a plan for candy consumption can help everyone ensure they don’t get tricked by too many treats. Here’s to a safe, happy and healthier Halloween for you, your family and friends.